The sounds of power tools, sewing machines and vacuums fill the air as volunteers have their first work session at Dickens Universal, the new storage home for Dickens Victorian Village in Cambridge, Ohio. This was former home to Universal Potteries founded in 1934 where beautiful pieces of dinnerware, tiles and even bricks were created and are collectors items today. Plans for tours of the facility are underway for both bus groups and area residents. Even a trolley tour is planned for the next Dickens season.
Quite often the question is asked: How do you create this amazing display? No doubt it all begins with the amazing volunteers who help all year long. Many of the mannequins need restored so damage can be repaired from the winds and precipitation of winter months on the street. The figures are torn apart, repaired and reassembled anytime problems are noted. One may have a broken leg needing repaired, while another needs new buttons on their coat. All of this takes time and patience from many volunteers, who take pride in the finished products and the enjoyment it brings many visitors.
Quite an accumulation of clothing is available for use on the mannequins through kind donations from area residents and even from those who have visited during the Dickens season. Thrift shops are frequently visited by the volunteer crew to seek treasures that might be used on the figure displays. This first night someone brought in a great pair of work boots, which may be used in a blacksmith scene. Another item was a beautiful shawl to wrap around one of the ladies, plus a blanket, which will be cut into several pieces and hemmed, for use as a throw where the figures are sitting.
Another area is filled with Dickens figures sitting on table tops awaiting repair to faces that had too much winter weather. This particular face has cracks caused by the wind, rain and snow of last winter and will be repaired and repainted by local artists before the new season begins.
One group removed platform attachments for dresses and the snow-like covers, so platforms could be repaired and perhaps mannequins moved from setting to setting. Some volunteers were vacuuming figures and settings so that people could work on them more easily while another group of ladies were busy cutting and sewing dresses, blankets, and coats. Dickens Universal is without question a busy place!
In the center of Dickens Universal is a long, long room which they call Main Street. Here you see the figures as they will appear on Wheeling Avenue in downtown Cambridge next Dickens season, and in their proper order. This makes it easy when scenes are being switched around so they can see exactly how they are going to appear in the actual downtown setting. With nearly 200 mannequins, this is no easy task.
The Spirit of Cambridge rivals the Spirit of Christmas as many volunteers prepare for another Dickens season. One lady remarked, “The average person has no idea how much work goes on behind the scenes to make this come to life during the winter months.”
Maybe someday soon you will get a chance to take a peek inside Dickens Universal as they create Christmas from long ago. Once you see the friendly atmosphere and experience the wonder of the project, maybe you too will want to help make this another successful year for Dickens Victorian Village. See you soon?
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